Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Hatching chicks - growing up!

It’s 3 weeks now since my little chicks hatched and they are really growing up. In the past week they have learned that the sound of the vacuum cleaner is not a signal to run, jump and flap about the place like Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army, and that being picked up by me does not result in death! They have also discovered that food in a different dish is still food and that going to the toilet in your water bowl is never a good idea. Not only does it spoil the water but you get wet and cold when you fall in!
Their little world is all very new and exciting and they are now confident enough to explore. We have had a few surprisingly sunny days in the last couple of weeks and the greenhouse has reached a whopping 18 degrees as a result. This has meant that they have been able to play in there for much of the day without needing to return to their brooder for warmth.
They are really in need of a bit more variety and stimulation in the form of bugs, grass, weeds, dust and perching materials, but its way too cold to let them play out at present. Their baby fluff is gradually turning into feathers, especially on their wings so they will shortly enter the ugly duckling phase of transformation, from chicks to growers. 
They are chatty and lively and dart about like little mice, so photographing them is tricky. They don’t have names yet as I like to wait until their gender and personality is established. Though one of them looks remarkably like a character from an Edward Dory book so perhaps that name will stick.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Naughty Nelly strikes again!

Those of you who find Nelly’s adventures amusing will probably have drawn the conclusion that my lack of blogging about her antics was a result of an improvement in her recalcitrant behaviour. Sadly this is not the case. In fact, if I blogged about all of Nellie’s wilful ways, she would be in danger of stealing the show!
Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.
Nelly - up to no good
in the veg patch!
Since my last instalment, Little Nell has in fact been banished from the ewes’ field for harassing a heavily pregnant Lucy, eating her way through 3 hay nets, ram raiding the chicken coops and eating the hen’s layers pellets. Oh, and then there was the day that she stood up on her back legs behind the cherry blossom tree so that I couldn’t see her while she stripped off the ivy that was growing up it!
This week’s escapade saw Nelly taking full advantage of the fact that I had accidentally left the gate to the vegetable plot open. There’s not much going on in there at the moment so that wouldn’t have been too bad, but she decided to exit the vegetable patch by head butting the fencing until one of the rails broke, leaving Nelly-shaped bulges in the chicken wire!
Nelly eating the raspberry canes!
It is her birthday in a few weeks and she will soon have to start behaving like a proper grown-up shearling, not a naughty oversized lamb. I did try explaining this to her the other day but she simply stood on her back legs, put her front feet on Charlotte’s rump, and wandered around as if she was pushing a wheelbarrow. When Charlotte finally persuaded her to desist, she ran down the field and leapt into the air clicking her heels.
I have a feeling that you have not heard the last of Naughty Nelly!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Lambing countdown

My lovely little Ryeland girls are just entering the final stage of their pregnancy and I am getting very excited. The ewes seem to be their usual laid back selves and only show any signs of animation when the feed bucket arrives. They are looking quite chubby now...I hope that’s a sign of lamby-ness not just lardy-ness from all their snacking!

Lucy doesn't seem to share
my excitement!
Over the coming weeks their lambs will undergo 70% of their foetal development and will put the greatest strain on the ewes’ nutritional resources. As a result, the feed bucket will become an even more popular feature of the girls’ day. The ewes all look well fed and should have more than enough reserves to support their growing lambs over the coming weeks. I will need to ensure that their nutritional intake remains sufficient.
My next job is to give them their pre-lambing vaccinations, so I’m waiting for a dry day to make the job easier for me and more hygienic for them. Then they can all just sit back and relax while I get on with all the pre-spring jobs and count the days until lambing time. 
Only 35 sleeps to go till my first lambs!!!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Frankie Cranfield - painting chickens!

As an animal lover and pastel artist, I am always drawn to artists who are also inspired by their animals, especially chickens. The first of Frankie’s pictures to catch my eye were a series of chicken’s bottoms! Up until then I thought I was the only person who could be as impressed by a hen’s bottom as they are by a cock’s comb. I thought to myself, this is a lady who loves her hens!

Frankie Cranfield lives in the Caldbeck Fells in Cumbria with her dogs, horses, guinea fowl and chickens. She is an accomplished oil, pastel and watercolour artist with a strong distinctive style. Her early paintings of Corfu have attracted the attention of organisations such as IKEA, who have produced a large number of her posters which have sold worldwide. The seasoned travellers amongst you may have seen some of her Mediterranean themed posters in Hilton hotels and at Gatwick Airport.

Frankie now specialises in painting her hens and other fowl in oils, and has produced a line of prints and beautiful greetings cards, as well as hand painted ceramics. Here are a few of my favourites, but if you would like to see more of Frankie’s work, visit her website or email her. 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Guest Post: Thorleif’s guide to breeding the best

Part 1: An Introduction
Over the next few weeks I will be writing about that seasonal thing - breeding. I will try to explain what cockerel to use, and why. If you have a few hens, you probably wonder if you can breed from them. Of course you can. But how? That depends what you want. 
If your main interest in chickens is to get lovely fresh eggs, and you are not really interested in any particular breed, then you have many options, and I will be suggesting a few.
Another group of chicken-keepers are the ones that keep a particular breed, and want to keep this breed pure. At the same time, they want to make each generation of chicks slightly better than the previous, either for show or utility, or simply because they like that particular breed and want to play a little part in making sure that it will live on and prosper.
The third group of poultry-folk are the ones that keep very rare breeds with a very limited number of strains to breed from. They need to plan their breeding a bit more, but there is no hocus-pocus in doing that. As I said, it just takes a bit more planning. Unfortunately, there are many enthusiasts that would love to have a go, but think it is too complicated. I will try to help you to understand how to make YOUR breed better.  

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Hatching day!

The beak starts to appear
Hoorah! The first of my chicks has hatched and a couple more have chipped a hole in their shell. It can take a chick a number of hours of rotating, chipping and using their legs, neck, wing and breast muscles to force it’s way out of the shell. When they do, they are wet and exhausted. So it’s no surprise that my first chick to hatch has fallen asleep with it’s little head resting on another chick’s eggshell as a pillow...bless.

The two halves start to tear apart
The time span between the first to hatch and the last can be over 24 hours. It can be so tempting to help a slow hatcher out of the shell by pulling away small pieces to assist their progress. I do occasionally assist some chicks, though I know many breeders who do not. The problem with assisting too soon is that the pressure of the chick’s body against the blood vessels in the membrane, and the chick’s rotations, is what cuts off the blood flow here. So if you tear the membrane before this natural process is complete, then the chick will bleed profusely. 

The wing starts to poke out
Pushing and wriggling to get free
It's only the head left in the shell

As a result I tend to just keep an eye on them and remove any that have hatched as soon as they are dry. This leaves space for the hatching ones to break free without being used as a giant football by the rest! Once the chicks are all snuggled up in the brooder they will not need to eat for 24 hours as they are nourished by the yolk that they absorb before hatching. So, they can all have a well earned rest while I clean out the incubator ready for the next lot. Phew!

The chick takes a well-earned rest!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Hatching chicks! The final countdown!

Bantam chicks usually take 19 days to hatch but my Croad Langshans (which are not true bantams) often go to 21 days, even under a broody in the height of summer. So, three days before hatching, I switch off the egg turning mechanism on the incubator and increase the humidity in anticipation of the big event!
One of last year's chicks showing
the residual egg tooth at the top of the beak
Also on this day, I like to get my brooder ready and warmed up to welcome my new arrivals. I use a large plastic storage crate as a brooder, along with an electric hen rather than a heat lamp. I set up the brooder and put in food, water, chick grit, shavings and grass, then place it in a warm room to wait for the chicks to hatch.
It can be really tempting to keep checking the eggs at this stage, as I find watching the chicks hatch so amazing. I restrict myself to one last candling, just to check for any problems, and then settle for peering through the incubator and offering words of encouragement.
I candle now to identify any chicks which have stopped developing and died in the shell. This is always really disappointing, but it’s important to remove them to prevent bacteria build up and poor hygiene affecting the other chicks, especially with the increased humidity.
Candling now also reveals the progress so far, which is the fully developed chick. The albumen has been absorbed and the amniotic fluid has reduced so that the chick occupies all the available space inside the shell. The last of the yolk has retracted into the chick’s stomach.
Over the next couple of days I will look out for signs of the chick using the tiny egg tooth at the end of it’s beak to break through the membrane into the air sack and chip through the shell. As the chicks begin to breath air through the air sack and rotate around chipping through the egg shell, they call out with a cheeping or pipping sound. I think this is so wonderful and I always call back as a broody hen would, to encourage the chicks to break free.
The brooder is all set up and ready to receive chicks

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